Photographer Steve Simon discusses the tools and thought processes needed to capture unique street imagery.
I am researching what the Sony a6000 and its’ derivatives the a6300 and a6500 are like at street photography. Not so long ago (well 60 years ago) you purchased a Leica and set forth into the streets of New York. (See Joel Meyerwitz), Now street photography is everywhere and there are lots of alternatives to a Leica, including the mirrorless Sony, Fuji, Panasonic and Canon cameras.
So concentrating on the Sony a6000s here are some views from street photography bloggers:
The big advantages of the A6000 for street photography are as follows:
It’s really fast in operation. The camera responds quickly and you are never left waiting for it to catch up, which can be an issue with some older mirrorless cameras, especially in this price range.
The flip up screen is great for shooting from the hip. It’s great for being stealthy when shooting on the street.
The autofocus is superb. It’s still one of the better autofocus systems that I’ve used on a mirrorless camera. I find it better than my X-Pro 2 for autofocusing (send your hate mail to….) especially when shooting street photography. It’s very fast and it locks on really quickly. Also, the face detection works well, and is a really useful option when shooting street shots.
It’s really small and discrete. When coupled with a small lens it’s not much bigger than a compact camera.
You can adapt it to an incredibly wide range of lenses (pretty much anything). While it doesn’t autofocus with adaptors as well as the newer A6500, if you’re willing to manual focus, and have old glass, there is more than likely an adaptor for it. And some of these adaptors are pretty cheap too.
There are MANY reviews on the A6000 focusing on features & performance, so I won’t try to do one myself. I would recommend if you are looking at an ILC for street then check out the online reviews, blogs and go to your local camera store to get the feel of the Sony A6000.
However, I did want to highlight what I liked about the camera. They are:
Lighting fast focus,
Easy to use menus & menu layout,
Fine lineup of Sony lenses and readily available adapters for non Sony lenses,
Focus tracking is awesome,
Burst rate is stupid fast,
OK (but, not great) low light performance,
Feels good in my hand (very sticky),
The main benefit of the a6000 is its portable size. The ability to put a camera in a coat pocket and take it out everywhere with you is not to be underestimated. Especially with street photography where you may want to be discreet.
But apart from the portability, we are just amazed by the image quality that a camera of this size can produce. The a6000s sensor is incredible and is widely regarded as being one of the best in this “size class” of cameras. It picks up colors well and the processor that powers the whole product can accurately adjust the balance on auto mode.
Some other cameras without a digital viewfinder can struggle in bright lighting conditions making the shot reasonably difficult (or impossible) to take. The OLED viewfinder on the a6000 makes it well suited to shooting in bright conditions. It is perfect for the street where you never know when the next shot might arise.
For street photography, this matters. As someone who’s always been a bit shy when it comes to pointing a camera in people’s faces, a smaller and more discreet camera allowed me to get closer and push myself further than an SLR ever has. The amazing thing is that modern mirrorless cameras don’t require you to sacrifice image quality — I’ve been shooting 24.2 megapixel images in RAW format images in RAW format and the excellent low-light performance and 425 points of autofocus on the A6300 allowed me to trust the camera completely.
Aforementioned street photographer Eric Kim notes that “ultimately capturing the moment, emotion, and feeling of a scene is more important than how many pixels or how sharp it is.” This could apply to a whole manner of photographic applications, but it’s especially true for street photographers and anyone who wants to get into candid photography. Kim’s top pick for a dedicated street camera is the Richoh GR-II, a compact camera with a fixed lens and an APS-C sensor that retails for around $700.
In many ways the Sony a6300 is an excellent camera. Great image quality, very versatile RAW files, a small size, great autofocus, and more. What more could you possibly ask for? My qualms with it have to do with the fact that the high ISO output is starting to fall behind the competitor and that I genuinely feel like the ergonomics need to take a step up at this point. Otherwise, it’s a very solid camera.
It is interesting gaining the views of actual users. The Sony a6xxx have fantastic autofocus, good IQ and are small and discrete, ideal for street work. May also have to invest in some primes. the Sigma 30mm 1.4 looks a good option very highly rated by DPReview.
Plus a top tip, if the 30mm is too tight then take a few pictures and stitch together in Lightroom
Joel Meyorowitz is a contemporary of Tony Ray-Jones. His YouTube videos are both educational and inspirational.
Here he describes how his photography is not the record of a single thing, but the coming together of two different things. This is about contradictions and connections in photographs which we talk about frequently in these pages. However for Meyerowitz it is about having the scene as busy as possible so that the eye is not necessarily drawn to just one thing.
This is how he works and why it is important to photograph in colour, and not have a single thing dominate the image.
My aim is to communicate something of the spirit and the mentality of the English, their habits and their way of life, the ironies that exist in the way they do things, partly through their traditions and partly through the nature of their environment and their mentality. For me there is something very special about the English ‘way of life’ and I wish to record it from my particular point of view before it becomes Americanised and disappears.
Tony Ray-Jones was a documentary photographer even before the term was coined. He studied in the US at Yale and returned to the UK in 1965, it was then whilst doing work for the Radio Times and other publications, that he decided to turn his camera on the English at leisure. At the time, his photographs were considered “exotic”.
In 1968 his attempts to publish his England by the Sea album, which served as a basis for the A Day Off (which was published after his death), came to nothing – the publishers claimed that the album would raise no interest.
He was a major influence on Martin Parr, but sadly died at the age of 31 from leukaemia.
Here Martin Parr talks about his influence on him.
The Guardian have a super collection of his work
The critic Sean O’Hagan said:
in his short life he helped create a way of seeing that has shaped several generations of British photography
What if you wanted to use a neck strap for say landscape work and a wrist strap for street and urban style pics. Its too much of a faff to unbuckle one and put on the other, so what is the solution?
It is these Op Tech System Connectors:
I bought these 1.5mm connectors and I use them when I am not using the strap that came with the camera, with this Maveek paracord wrist strap.
Just had to share this from the Digital Photography School, which is a great site and a valuable source of tuition and information.
I read this article thinking it was going to be rubbish. I am always very wary of articles that start, “10 things you didn’t know about………..”, but it turned out to be very true, and funny. Especially the stage about giving up all your gear and just choosing to shoot with a small camera with a prime lens. Personally I am still in that phase, but because my site is about a personal journey. Enjoy…………….
I came across Ruddy Roye in the Fuji Spotlight Series of videos about photographers:
He is a photographer based in Brooklyn specialising in editorial and environmental portraits and photo-journalism photography. His photographs are gritty and real, this is his website
He has also been instrumental in using Instagram to showcase his interest in his community of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. He has over a quarter of a million followers on Instagram and was TIME Instagram Photographer of 2016. See here.
“My Instagram account has become a way for me to question everything around me,” said Mr Roye, who has uploaded roughly 2,000 images in the past year. “The media has a way of deleting the stories of people who society does not want to deal with. This is my humble way of putting these stories back in people’s faces — forming a real and active dialogue about these issues.”
It is inspirational to see a photographer use his camera for social activism. He takes pictures about the issues of race, deprivation and inequality, which if he were a journalist would be difficult to publish.
I love the work of Dougie Wallace, here is a street photographer that works right on the edge. This is a series of shots is from his project photographing stags and hens in Blackpool.
A rich seam he says is the kebab shop late at night.
This is from another project documenting the rich, in what he calls Harrodsburg.
Notice though how fast he moves, and how little time there is to get the shot.
I like his use of colour and flash.
Lastly a lot of us budding street photographers head to Shoreditch, the street art and the mix of people make it a great hunting ground.
However we don’t all get shots as good as these.
I bought my Fujifilm XT20 a week or so ago, and I spent a couple of days testing, to see how I could work with it. I bought the Fuji XT20 as a small inconspicuous street camera, which meant that it had to focus fast to capture fleeting moments. As can be seen the testing was not successful, something was wrong. About 30% of my images turned out this way.
I had setup the camera according to the manual and online videos here. I had to assume either the lens or the camera were at fault, and got ready to return the camera to Wex Photographic. However because it is a bit of a drive to Norwich, I decided to do some research first. What I uncovered was that this issue is not uncommon with the X cameras, and the Fujifilm 18-55 lens. The forums were full of woe. How was it that all the reviewers thought this camera was brilliant, but lots of new users thought it was crap?
The key was that the blurry pictures were usually from new users, which could mean that my XT20 setup was at fault. I spent a day researching and gradually changed the setup. The next day this picture was shot quickly from across the street.
I was pleased to discover that it was sharp. I shot over 400 shots that day and nearly all were successful. How was it done?
My Notes on the Fujifilm XT20 Setup to Achieve Sharp Images.
These are my notes / instructions to myself, on the setup I have used to stop getting blurry images with the XT20:
Shoot Aperture Priority
This may seem counter intuitive, why not shoot shutter priority and select a high shutter speed that will ensure that there will be no motion blur?
Shutter priority leaves control of the aperture to the camera. I lose creative control. I may want to blur the background with wide aperture. I may want to ensure there is sufficient depth of field so that all the people in a group are in focus. I may want to focus on a feature in a landscape.
So long as I keep an eye on the shutter speed in the viewfinder, I should be able to control both.
Set Focus Mode to single shots i.e. AF-S using the dial on the front of the camera. P78 in the manual. This will ensure that the camera will refocus before taking the next image when the shutter is pressed half way. NB S on the dial on the right of the camera. However if the subject is moving then switch to continuous. AF-C and CL or CH on the dial on the right of the camera.
Set High Enough ISO
I don’t trust the Fuji auto ISO to move up as the scene demands. Try it! So I set the ISO at around 640 to ensure that there is flexibility in aperture and shutter speed. Most cameras today can handle higher ISOs. Better a slightly grainy image, which can be recovered in post production, than a blurry one. Q>ISO>rear command dial.
Single Point AF Mode
There are three selectable Focus Modes. Zone and Wide Tracking are designed for moving objects, Single Point AF will however provide pin point control of the focus point if the subject is static. Menu/OK>AFMF>AF Mode>Single Point.
Select the Smallest Size Focus Point
The smaller the focus point the more accurately the camera can be shown exactly what to focus on. Menu/OK>AFMF>AF Mode>Single Point. Use the rear command wheel to select the smallest size a single sensor. P83 in the manual.
Control the Focus Point
Once the smallest focus point is selected, then to quickly move the focus point around the EVF (Electronic View Finder) or screen set the selector buttons around the Menu/OK button to move the focus point. Note that pressing the DISPBACK button will always return the focus point to the centre. Menu/OK>Wrench>Selector Button Settings>Focus Area
Shutter AF On
To ensure you get what you see. Set the XT20 to lock the focus when the shutter is pressed half way. Menu/OK>Wrench>Selector Button Settings>Shutter AF>On
High Performance On
There is a power management setting that speeds up the auto focus, but it does drain the battery a little faster. However buy some spare batteries and go for sharper images. Menu/OK>Wrench>Power Management>Performance>High Performance.
Facial Recognition Off
Facial recognition is great for just that e.g. photographing the family in the back garden. However don’t leave it switched on or the auto focus will be hunting for faces in all scenes, and may override the chosen focus point. Menu/OK>AFMF>Face/Eye Detection Setting>Off.
AF+MF enables the manual focus (MF) to be used when the auto focus (AF) is being used. Just touching the MF dial accidentally while using the zoom could throw out the focus. . NB if AF+MF is switched on the camera will shoot in Release Priority (see below) even if Focus Priority is on. Menu/OK>AFMF>AF+MF>Off
Focus Priority On
Release / Focus Priority: This simple setting could be the cause of many out of focus images. Release prioritises the shutter over focusing. So the shutter can fire before focus is achieved. Focus priority ensures that focus is achieved before the camera will fire. Menu/OK>AFMF>Release/Focus Priority>AF-S Priority Selection>Focus
IS Mode Shooting Only
As a default the image stabilisation is set to continuous which is good for movies, but can induce some shake on single images. Set to Shooting Only and the OIS is only engaged when the shutter is pressed half way. Menu/OK>Shooting Setting>IS Mode>Shooting Only
AF Beep On
The focus square will turn green if focus is achieved, but it is very useful to have additional confirmation of focus lock. Menu/OK>Wrench>Sound Set-up>AF Beep Volume>Three on options
Check Focus On
If Focus Check is on, then pressing the rear command dial zooms the display to the focus point to confirm focus. A useful feature if the scene is busy. Menu/OK>AFMF>Focus Check>On
With Pre AF on, focusing will continue even if the shutter is pressed half way. To be in control of auto focus then Menu/OK>AFMF>Pre-AF>Off
Check that the OIS image stabilisation is switched on.
Modern cameras are brilliant because they can be configured to cover a multitude of situations. This is my setup to get sharp images of people in the street. If you are into sport or wildlife photography your setup will be different, but be assured this is a good basic setup that will help you and the Fujifilm XT20 deliver sharp images.
Try it, I hope it works for you.
How to Setup the Fuji XT20
Getting a new camera can be daunting. I could not get my Fuji XT20 to work the way I wanted it at first because it was switched to Auto instead of a dot! I spent about an hour figuring out how to setup aperture priority which is the usual way I shoot.
There are some really useful videos on YouTube on how to setup the camera: Firstly Tony and Chelsea Northrop who seem to have a fantastic home and brilliant life travelling the world doing photography videos. They are worth watching though if you have not caught up with them yet. This video is an overview which is useful if you have just taken the camera out of the box:
Fuji Guys is a great channel for all things Fujifilm, this video is particularly useful as it goes into detail re the menu options, which is not easy to find in the manual.
Then there is Omar Gozalez who shoots mainly Canon (as do I), but is into the Fujifilm XT20 because it is small and fun to shoot with (as I am).
My Setup for Fuji XT20
These are my notes about the basic setup:
- I may just shoot in P, ie Program mode most of the time as it is possible to adjust the aperture and shutter speed combinations using the rear command wheel, which is really useful.
- The screen seemed too cluttered, so I have switched a lot of the icons off. This is done via Menu OK>spanner>screen set up>screen 2>Display settings. From here it is possible to configure what is shown and what is not.
- I have switched the image being displayed after every shot as it was confusing especially when shown in the EVF. This is done Menu OK>spanner>screen setup>image display>off.
- My camera locks occasionally and the green light blinks continually. It is annoying and all you can do is take the battery out and put it back in.
- I was confused about manual focus. This is activated from the focus mode selector on the front of the camera on the right of the lens, by switching to M.
- Shooting single and burst is on the drive dial on the top right of the camera.
- A useful tool is the the auto focus distance indicator which is MenuOK>spanner>screen set up>screen 1. When shooting quickly it is useful to have an idea of the depth of field for a chosen aperture.
- The quickest way to change the ISO is the quick menu button Q, scroll to ISO and change using the rear command wheel. I would have liked that on the front command wheel. Is that possible? Please let me know.